In 2007, Time magazine did a feature on the 50 worst cars of all time. One of the cars named–along with the 1958 Ford Edsel and the 1970 AMC Gremlin–was the 1909 Model T.
Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let’s stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation’s economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.
I wonder if the author of this piece made any attempt to imagine what life might have been like for a farm family in 1909–perhaps several miles from the nearest neighbor, 20 miles from town, with travel only by foot or by horse/wagon over muddy roads–and what the introduction of the Model T might have meant to such a family. Somehow, I doubt it. I also wonder if he has devoted any thought to what conditions might be like in a large city which is highly dependent on horse transportation. Again, it seems unlikely.
Too many members of our class of scribes and jesters–journalists, novelists, entertainers, professors–feel the need to put down any and all achievements of our civilization, be they the plays of Shakespeare, the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of low-cost automobiles, or the victories of WWII and the Cold War. In many cases, I feel sure, this impulse arises from their own creative sterility.
Innovation and entrepreneurship will go where they are appreciated. They will not thrive in a society in which they are demonized and in which endless obstacles are put in their path.
I saw a letter somewhere by an electrical engineer who has been working on the development of small-scale hydroelectric plants in Africa. He said he likes working on these projects because of the joy on the faces of the local people when their little hydro plant is activated. If he were working on power development in the U.S., he would have gotten a lot less positive feedback and a lot more verbal abuse.
See also Roger Simon: will the next Edison come from China?